Mnookin brings deep experience, wide perspective
Every incoming University of Wisconsin–Madison leader professes to understand the Wisconsin Idea, the guiding principle that the activities of the university should have a positive and lasting impact on the state and world.
Chancellor-designee Jennifer L. Mnookin, who on Monday was named the 30th leader of UW–Madison, grasps it in a deeply personal way.
Eighteen months ago, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mnookin donated a kidney to her father, Harvard law professor Robert Mnookin. A transplant solution developed at UW–Madison allowed the organ to be shipped from Los Angeles to him in Boston for successful transplantation. He’s doing well today.
Following her visit to campus and meetings with shared governance in early May, she was struck by the commitment to the Wisconsin Idea and the spirit of the academic community that she’ll be joining on Aug. 4.
“There are two things that make this place so special. One is just the incredible range of research activities across so many fields at such a high level,” Mnookin says. “The second is just how much people care about each other, the community and the institution. From the students I met with to faculty to staff, there were an enormous number of people who clearly really care about this institution and making it as strong as possible.
“That makes me just incredibly excited and inspired to become a Badger,” she notes, adding that she feels deep appreciation both to the Board of Regents for selecting her and to outgoing Chancellor Rebecca Blank for her years of leadership.
While Mnookin offers perspective on and understanding of UW and the opportunities it offers, current and former colleagues went out of their way to share accounts of the leadership attributes that make her a match for a new role.
Those who know her best credit Mnookin with being a transformative leader at UCLA, fully prepared to transition from a successful deanship into the chancellor role of a public research university.
“Jennifer was born to be the leader of a great research university like the University of Wisconsin,” says University of Oregon President Michael Schill, who previously served as UCLA Law School dean. He worked with Mnookin while she was on the Law School faculty and serving as UCLA’s vice dean for faculty and research from 2007 to 2009 and vice dean for faculty recruitment and intellectual life in 2012–13.
“She is incredibly smart, strategic, inspiring, warm and collaborative,” he adds. “She has been an amazing dean of one of the nation’s best law schools and has moved it dramatically forward in a short period of time.”
Through initiatives and centers, the UCLA School of Law has attempted to address major societal issues facing California and the nation, such as immigration, human rights, electronic privacy and regulation of new technologies.
Mnookin founded and co-directs UCLA’s Program on Understanding Law, Science & Evidence (PULSE @ UCLA Law) and her publications have focused on issues relating to forensic science, such as fingerprint identification, handwriting expertise and DNA evidence.
Mnookin has elevated the school in every respect, with a focus on access and excellence, says Michael Levine, UCLA’s interim executive vice chancellor and provost.
“Under her leadership, the school has enhanced the quality and diversity of the faculty; seen an increase in the credentials and diversity of the student body; set records for philanthropic support; built and expanded impactful, innovative programs in several disciplines; and achieved its highest-ever rankings,” he says.
“Throughout, Dean Mnookin has shown a steadfast commitment to connecting with and supporting students, and doing as much as possible to sustain community, especially during the pandemic,” Levine adds.
She has also taken multiple steps to address diversity and climate within the school, he explains.
During her deanship she has created a substantial number of endowed student scholarships, including: the Achievement Fellowship Program, which provides full tuition for high-achieving students who have overcome significant life obstacles; the first endowed Black Law Students Association scholarship; and the Graton Scholars initiative for students from Native Nations or who are dedicated to tribal advocacy.
One of her chief strengths may be her talents across the many facets of her responsibilities, says Ann Carlson, chief counsel of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and UCLA’s Shirley Shapiro Professor of Environmental Law.
“One of the hallmarks of her leadership, for me, is just how good she is at so many parts of the job. She’s a great manager, a great strategist, a great fundraiser, a great teacher, a great colleague, a great scholar, a great institution builder. I could go on and on.”
Mnookin says she won’t shy away from challenges ahead and describes an engaged leadership style that will draw in an array of voices in an effort to solve problems.
“I’m definitely a leader who doesn’t think that I always know best,” she says. “I believe that the best decisions come through engagement with others, and the willingness to listen. That said, I will make tough decisions and recognize that there are times when you’re unable to make everybody happy.”
“Vision comes through collaboration and engagement — working together to find common purpose,” she adds. “We will look for ways to improve the institution that you love, and that I am coming to love.”
“No one has worked harder with more creativity and commitment to collaboration on behalf of the Law School than Jennifer,” adds William Boyd, Michael J. Klein Chair in Law and faculty co-director of the Emmett Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.
Outside of her UCLA activities, in 2020, Mnookin was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, serves on the advisory board of the Electronic Privacy Information Center and as a board member and chair of the investment committee of the Law School Admissions Council. She served for six years on the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Science, Technology and Law, and co-chaired a group of senior advisors for a President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology report on the use of forensic science in criminal courts.
She received her A.B. from Harvard University, her J.D. from Yale Law School, and a Ph.D. in History and Social Study of Science and Technology from M.I.T. Prior to joining UCLA Law, Mnookin was professor of law and Barron F. Black Research Professor at the University of Virginia School of Law. She was also visiting professor of law at Harvard Law School.
Lawyers are uniquely positioned to be leaders and consensus builders, she notes.
“Lawyers have to listen carefully,” she says. “They have to think strategically. They are, fundamentally, trained as problem solvers and sometimes have to persuade people that don’t necessarily see the world the way they do. They also have to be willing to engage across difference and think seriously about alternative points of view. I do think those are qualities that I will bring to this role as chancellor.”
Outside of her work on campus, you might soon find Mnookin walking out to Picnic Point, exploring the Lakeshore Nature Preserve, or on a local segment of the Ice Age Trail — or even exploring the culinary scene of South Central Wisconsin.
Her husband, Joshua Foa Dienstag — a nationally recognized scholar of political science and law at UCLA — will accompany her and also join the UW–Madison faculty.
“We spend a lot of time hiking in California. We are very excited to explore some of the trails of Wisconsin,” Mnookin says. “We’re foodies. We like cooking and also enjoy trying new dishes both in restaurants and at home.”
Media contact: John Lucas, (608) 262-8287, firstname.lastname@example.org
More about Jennifer Mnookin
Jennifer L. Mnookin is the 30th leader of the University of Wisconsin–Madison. She is a national expert on law, forensic science and evidence, and has deep experience as an innovative and talented administrator.
Prior to joining UW–Madison, Mnookin served as dean of the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law and Ralph and Shirley Shapiro Professor of Law. She first joined the UCLA Law faculty in 2005, she served as Vice Dean for Faculty and Research from 2007 to 2009, and Vice Dean for Faculty Recruitment and Intellectual Life in 2012–13. She became dean in 2015.
UW–Madison is going to be in great hands under Jennifer Mnookin’s leadership as she takes the baton and builds on the strong legacy of Chancellor Blank. Collaborative leadership is at her core and she has extensive prior experience with shared governance. She brings vision, high energy, a deep appreciation of the Wisconsin Idea, a passion for students who are at the heart of all that we do, a genuine commitment to fostering an inclusive campus, and an impressive understanding of the opportunities before us.
I am excited to welcome Jennifer Mnookin to the UW–Madison campus. Her energy is infectious and her knowledge of Wisconsin and the Madison campus community is impressive. She is ready to be a Badger. Incoming Chancellor Mnookin is a dynamic leader and I look forward to working with her.
Chancellor-designate Mnookin’s energy and enthusiasm made a powerful impression on those of us who interviewed her as well as the campus community during her public forum.
Jennifer Mnookin’s innovative approaches to education, research, service and diversity provide a strong foundation for leading Wisconsin’s flagship university,” said Jay O. Rothman, incoming UW System President. “She has a personal, intimate understanding of the Wisconsin Idea and will be a tremendous asset to our state.
Dean Mnookin’s passion for public higher education, her vision for its future and the crucial challenges it faces were so impressive. The choice of leader for our flagship is one of the most important tasks regents can face. We were fortunate to have the help of an outstanding search committee and valuable campus participation, both of which were crucial to the process. Dean Mnookin is a collaborative, visionary leader for whom student success and the Wisconsin Idea will be paramount.
Ater the final public presentations, I felt we were in a win-win situation with several outstanding candidates, including Jennifer. I’m particularly happy with her clear understanding of the Wisconsin Idea and its importance in a democracy and look forward to working with her to move that Idea and our campus forward.
Dean Mnookin's passion and enthusiasm for higher education is unmatched. The University Staff looks forward to working with the new Chancellor on many important issues in the future.
ASEC has enjoyed a long and productive relationship with Chancellor Blank and we wish her the very best in her new role at Northwestern. We are looking forward to an equally strong and positive working relationship with Ms. Mnookin as we begin to explore opportunities and tackle challenges for Academic Staff and UW–Madison.
ASM wishes the chancellor-designee a swift and harmonious transition into her new role, and looks forward to working with her administration in the upcoming year. ASM hopes to continue to have a cordial and open relationship with the chancellor, as has been maintained over many years. We are passionate as an organization for collaboration between us and university administration, as we stand as one of the many representatives of student voices across campus. We hope that Dean Mnookin, as chancellor, can share in our goals to advocate for students at the highest level.
Dean Mnookin is an outstanding choice to lead the flagship campus of the University of Wisconsin system and I know she will achieve great things there. As Dean of the UCLA School of Law, she elevated the school in so many ways, always focused on access and excellence. Her leadership, innovation and dedication to her faculty, students, and staff were everywhere apparent. While I am sad to see her go, I know she will be an exceptional leader in Madison.
Jennifer Mnookin is an inspirational leader. A visionary with a keen sense of hope and possibility for the future, her leadership combines wisdom, personal warmth, and intellectual brilliance. Her extraordinary tenure at UCLA is notable for her ability to navigate with grace while building consensus and shared purpose. Her leadership as chair of the council of professional deans was invaluable to our collective “rising to the challenge” over the years, and her commitment to public higher education serves as an inspiration to all. The University of Wisconsin–Madison is very fortunate to have Dr. Mnookin as their next chancellor, and we celebrate this next chapter in career with her.
Jennifer Mnookin has been a national leader as a law dean because of her ability to see the challenges and opportunities ahead and her capacity to bring leaders with different views and interests to the table to work together. I have no doubt she will build on these exceptional strengths at UW–Madison, drawing on her talents as a leader who is at once visionary and collaborative. She is an inspired choice for one of the country’s great public research universities.
Jennifer has been a transformative Dean in every way. Under her leadership, the law school is more inclusive, more intellectually vibrant, more externally-facing, and more student-centered than it has ever been.
It is hard to imagine life at UCLA Law without Jennifer steering the ship. She has led us through incredible times in the last few years—a global pandemic, multiple constitutional crises, the righteous anger at the death of George Floyd and countless others. In doing so, she has been thoughtful, kind, tough, witty, and wise. Like so many others, I have learned a tremendous amount from Jennifer that I will take with me throughout my career. The University of Wisconsin is so lucky to have her, as we have been.
Jennifer has uncommonly good judgment and a remarkable capacity to see the forest and the trees. She is a consummate professional. She is always level-headed and courteous, and she truly lives the basic rule of leadership that “the buck stops here.” Jennifer has handled an unprecedented period of deep challenges for higher education with good humor and extraordinary dedication. The pandemic required a lot of all of us, but no one at UCLA bore more on behalf of others than Jennifer.
Dean Mnookin is a tremendous leader and person, and the University of Wisconsin is lucky to have her as its next chancellor. Her inclusive, collaborative approach to leadership, understanding of leading public research universities, and deep commitment to making a difference has allowed her to have an important impact at the law school, across the University, and nationally and internationally in partnership with other deans. I cannot imagine a more ideal choice.